A woman standing in front of a projector that is projecting an image of a 3D fish in an abstract environment.
New VCU graduate taehee said much of their thesis research “has been about queer and transgender community and their relationship with voice.” (Photo by Manavi Singh)

Class of 2024: Master of Fine Arts student explores the intersection of voice and gender identity

Multisensory thesis exhibition by artist-designer taehee incorporates sound and sight for an experience with personal resonance.

Share this story

Giving voice to … voice, taehee used their Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition to create an immersive experience that connects gender, anatomy, memory and sound.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts graduate student was featured at the school’s Anderson Gallery recently. Their digital media installation featured two audio-visual elements in adjoining dark rooms.

“For both pieces, I thought about how much of gender perception or identity people assign on the voice, but it’s also not something you immediately think of as a gender representation,” taehee said.

Both dark rooms had wall-size projections. In one, an audio visualizer projected images as it responded to narration or reacted to environmental sounds. In the other, guests could sit on a mirror on the floor to watch a projection of words rising like in karaoke, with the shiny reflection creating a perfect circle. The words were from a conversation with a friend on past experiences and voice changes connected to gender fluidity for those on hormone therapy.

“I used a lot of technologies like speech-to-text function. I wanted to have like a reverse karaoke,” taehee said. “So much of my thesis research has been about queer and transgender community and their relationship with voice – and how gender-affirming care and medical care also dissects voice.”

Inspiration for the project, which also featured a model of a larynx, included their experiences with a voice coach, readings on opera and homosexuality, and reflections on Korean history and identity – and relating those elements to trans and queer experiences and culture, taehee said.

Born in California, taehee spent most of their childhood in South Korea and later moved with their family to Columbia, Missouri. They earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design but developed a strong interest in video and storytelling.

“Even though painting can be so beautiful in itself, you can only see one moment, like a photo,” taehee said.

They moved to New York City to work in graphic design and got immersed in zine and artist book-making. They ran a zine collective called Hyperlink Press, which focused on the queer Korean diaspora and online community.

For graduate school, taehee wanted to study digital media, including virtual reality, augmented reality and kinetic imaging. Through zine and book fairs, they had met associate professor Nicole Killian, VCU’s graphic design program graduate director, which drew them to Richmond.

Last summer, taehee accomplished a goal to pursue corporate graphic design work along with academic research and their personal projects. They interned at Forbes business magazine, creating graphics to accompany articles.

“I love paper publications, but with digital publication, it is something that needs human interaction in a different format than a book, which is why it aligned with my interest to make weird or very alternative reading experiences,” taehee said.

They also turned introspective, investigating and creating personal stories – about being “assigned female at birth, nonbinary person, and my body and medical system that I encounter in my personal life.” The resulting book focused on their ovarian cyst rupturing.

“I wrote about it in a perspective like, I didn’t know this thing was growing, but it felt like I was almost like an oyster that was growing this pearl. And then my body was generating that, latching on to some idea of femininity, conjuring the idea of how my mom is also trying to understand my queerness,” taehee said.

Their time in Richmond featured an array of other experiences. This year, through an internship, taehee created graphics to accompany exhibits at VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art. And throughout their degree program, they conducted research on 3D web coding and digital fabrication – taehee relished having access to tools and machinery that allowed them to create a variety of media and work. Academic highlights included classes on computational media and the politics and theory around extended reality.

After graduation, taehee expects to return to New York City, but they said their professional and artistic passions now have more potential outlets, thanks to the foundation they deepened in their VCU studies.